Daywatch: Federal recognition at last for Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation

Good morning, Chicago.

When Potawatomi Chief Shab-eh-nay left his home in present-day DeKalb County to visit family in Kansas, he returned just weeks later to seized lands. The U.S. government had illegally auctioned off the 1,280-acre reservation.

“They said he abandoned his land and sold it,” said Joseph Rupnick, the chairman of Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation.

The generational trauma of the past 175 years weighed heavily on Rupnick, Shab-eh-nay’s fourth great-grandson. And it remained at the forefront of his mind last month when he signed a deed placing 130 acres of that land in trust — a bureaucratic process that grants Prairie Band sovereignty in the territory.

It means for the first time in nearly two centuries, Illinois is home to a federally recognized tribal nation.

“All those years of fighting, and trying to get folks to see the injustice that was done, actually is starting to make change,” Rupnick said. “It’s kind of surreal.”

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